International News - Issue 302

Chelsea Managerial Target Antonio Conte Confirms Italy Exit Plan 

Chelsea managerial target Antonio Conte has confirmed he will step down as Italy head coach after Euro 2016. Conte is expected to sign a three-year deal to take over at Stamford Bridge and that his representatives have begun negotiations with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia. The announcement that he will not renew his Italy contract was made earlier on Tuesday morning by Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian FA, and has now been confirmed by Conte himself. "At the moment, my focus is on the Euros, where we'll try with hard work and sacrifice to do our best at the tournament," said Conte. "Anyone who knows me, knows I will give my total commitment to this. I feel I should go back to being a club manager, to have the chance to train with players every day. "I want to thank the president and everyone at the federation who has followed me in this wonderful adventure." Tavecchio said of Conte: "He misses the training pitch and working with players every day. That's understandable." Initial talks were reported to have been positive, with Conte potentially talking about a long-term deal to come to England as a replacement for interim boss Guus Hiddink. Hiddink, who replaced Jose Mourinho on an interim basis in December, has already stated his intention to retire from management at the end of the season, ruling himself out of taking the role permanently. Conte, 46, took over the Italian national side in August 2014 and secured their qualification for the European Championship in France. He won three Serie A titles with Juventus, predominantly favouring a system employing three central defenders.

Newly-appointed Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez says he is aware of the daunting task ahead of him, yet feels he is ready for the challenge. Barely two hours after the Magpies showed the door to coach Steve McClaren, Benitez arrived in Newcastle, penning a three-year deal with the club who are in the midst of a relegation dogfight. With just six wins from their 29 matches in the League thus far, Newcastle sit 19th in the Premier League standings, a point away from safety with just ten matches left in the season. Yet Benitez, who previously coached English clubs Liverpool and Chelsea, is keeping positive ahead of the arduous challenge that awaits. "I have the pleasure to confirm I have committed to a legendary English club, with the massive challenge of remaining part of the Premier League,” he is quoted as saying on the club’s official website. "It will be a challenge not just for me and my staff but for the players, the Club and the fans. "All of us must push together in the same direction and with the same target in mind. This is the reason why I'm going to ask for your total support to successfully complete this task. "Personally, it means my return to the Premier League, closer to my home and my family. I can't be happier. "C'mon Toon Army! The club and I need your total involvement!"

Wayne Rooney does not expect to be sidelined 'too long' after the international break and is confident he will be at his best for Euro 2016. Rooney has missed Manchester United's last eight games with a knee ligament injury he suffered against Sunderland, and media reports last week suggested he could even miss this summer's tournament in France. The 30-year-old will not be ready for England's forthcoming friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands, but could be back in time for United's Premier League clash with former club Everton on April 3 and hopes that will be enough time to prepare for a long summer. "It is going as planned. It is going how we first thought. It is going well so hopefully it won't be too long now," Rooney said as he attended the unveiling of United's partnership with Gulf Oil International. "I don't know for definite but it could be after the international break, obviously I will miss the England games, but it shouldn't be too long after that. "It is not too bad. We are being a bit cautious. It is a difficult one to try and push. If I try and push and be involved now it could cause more damage. So we are being cautious. After the international break is a more realistic target. "I am hoping if I am back when I am expected to be back, depending on the two cups we are still in, then there could be 10 games left for United plus the England friendly games so I don't think that [lack of preparation] would be a worry." Rooney says his absence has been predictably frustrating, but he agrees with the club's decision to make him take a break from his rehab in case of a return of the problem. "There was a time when I couldn't do anything. [Louis van Gaal], myself and the doctor thought it was better that I went away and that could only do me good in the up and coming weeks," he added. "It has been eight games now I have missed and I didn't realise it was that many. It has been frustrating. "I have tried to be involved, I have spoken to the players a lot. I know it is not the same as being out there on the pitch and being involved on match day and having an influence but I have tried to help out. "The youngsters have done great. With young players you never know but hopefully they will have a bright future at this club."

Chelsea forward Diego Costa has been charged by the FA following last Saturday's 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Everton. The Spain international stands accused of improper conduct for his behaviour after he was shown a second yellow card by referee Michael Oliver. Costa has until the end of the week to respond to the charge and provide his observations to the FA in relation to an alleged gesture he made towards Everton fans as he left the pitch at half-time. The 27-year-old was dismissed in the 84th minute of the quarter-final tie, following a clash with experienced former England midfielder Gareth Barry. Having already been booked for a foul on Barry earlier, Costa retaliated when he was challenged by the Everton man. Costa put his head towards Barry's neck and it was speculated he may even have bitten him, although Barry confirmed on Sunday that no biting had taken place. However, having been shown a second yellow card by Oliver, Costa refused to leave the pitch immediately, instead confronting the official. The FA has decided his behaviour warrants an improper conduct charge and Costa could face an increase in his automatic one-match suspension. If found guilty of the improper conduct charge he could be handed a one-match ban, and a charge and further one-match ban are a possible consequence of the alleged gesture towards Everton supporters. Costa, who joined Chelsea from Atletico Madrid ahead of their title-winning campaign last season, has twice before been handed three-match retrospective bans by the FA. He was adjudged to have deliberately trodden on the ankle of Liverpool's Emre Can during a Capital One Cup semi-final in January 2015 and was sanctioned again after a clash with Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny during a Premier League game last September.

Everton will play either Manchester United or West Ham in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on the weekend of April 23/24. In the other semi-final, Crystal Palace will take on Watford in a match also to be played at Wembley. Palace, who have knocked out three Premier League teams and Reading in the competition, have the chance to reach their first final since they were beaten in a replay by Manchester United in 1990. The Eagles have never won the trophy and neither have their opponents Watford, who lost 2-0 to Everton in their previous final appearance in 1984. Quique Sanchez' Flores side have beaten Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Arsenal to reach the last-four. Everton avenged their FA Cup final defeat of 2007 to Chelsea by beating the Blues 2-0 in a thriller at Goodison Park on Saturday, and they could set up a repeat of 1995's final with Manchester United if Louis van Gaal's side can triumph at West Ham. Dimitri Payet had seemingly won the game for the Hammers on Sunday but Anthony Martial equalised to earn a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. West Ham co-owner David Gold said: "I'm very confident we can get the right result in the replay under the lights in the last ever FA Cup tie to be played at the Boleyn Ground. "Hopefully it will be a great ending to a memorable last season at Upton Park and there is no doubts we have the quality to win the FA Cup this season. "I am sure Everton would not want to face us if we get through, especially after our impressive comeback at Goodison Park last weekend."

Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has re-iterated his desire to play in the Spanish La Liga in future. Europe’s hot property has been in scintillating form for BVB this season, netting 33 goals in 39 matches across all competitions and attracting the attention of the biggest clubs on the continent. Reports emerged earlier this month that a deal to join Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid had been agreed, yet the 26-year-old denied such claims, but did say he wanted to ply his trade in La Liga in future, as revealed previously. "There's no agreement, but... I've already promised my grandfather that I would play there one day,” he told beIN Sports. "As I have said many times, I would like to play in Spain and to have a good time until the end of my life." The Gabon international waved off speculation linking him to French big-spenders Paris Saint-Germain, insisting it is not his wish to go back to Ligue 1, where he has already turned out for Lille and Monaco in the past. "PSG are not my objective," he said. "I can't say any more. I don't know why I have to go back to France when I left there three years ago."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit four goals as Paris Saint-Germain secured a fourth straight Ligue One title with a record 9-0 thrashing of Anele Ngcongca's Troyes last Sunday. Ibrahimovic spearheaded the rout, which included a brace from strike partner Edinson Cavani and goals from Javier Pastore, Adrien Rabiot and Matthieu Saunier (own goal). The win eclipsed PSG's previous biggest league victory, a 6-0 demolition of Guingamp. Laurent Blanc’s men, who took control of the summit in the second week of the season, have accrued an unassailable 25-point lead over second-placed Monaco with just eight matches remaining. Bafana Bafana regular Ngcongca was substituted after 64 minutes against the capital club.

Neymar will easily surpass the achievements of Ronaldinho, but never that of Pele. That is the view of Brazilian legend and 1970 World Cup winner Tostao, who feels that Ronaldinho could have been an all-time great had he remained focused. “I have no doubt he [Neymar] will be better than Ronaldinho, because he's more complete,” Tostao told Cadena SER. “Ronaldinho only had three good years. If he had played over 10 years, like [Lionel] Messi, at a really high level, we would discuss if he’s at the height of Neymar, but he lasted three years and Neymar has five.” Tostao added: “Pele had all the virtues that a footballer should have in his position. He was very strong, he shot with his right, with his left, he was spectacular in the air, he had a lot of goals, he was the most complete player of all time. “Neymar has the chance to be the second best player in the history of Brazilian football, but it's difficult to imagine he could overtake Pele.”

Belgian international Eden Hazard could face four weeks out for Chelsea. Hazard has been struggling with the hip problem for the majority of the campaign and the Chelsea ace will now face a spell out of the side. The 25-year-old has failed to have an impact for the Premier League champions this season scoring just twice all season. He has been criticised for his performances as Chelsea have endured a torrid time this campaign. Sources close to the player suggest he is concerned about the first major injury of his career. Hazard's future at Chelsea is up in the air as Real Madrid and Paris St-Germain are expected to make raids for the Belgian in the summer.